Often clients come to us looking to spend thousands of dollars in digital marketing and advertising. Most are already familiar with SEM and are eager to begin running ads on Google. This is a good thing, and we should all be, but let’s not allow our excitement to hit us on our way out! I will tell you the story of Company X, who a freelancing friend of mine was working with a couple of months ago.
Company X was a costume rental service that wanted their website to rank amongst the top locally on Google. They had a limited budget as-well-as an urgency to meet very narrow deadlines. My friend offered to first optimize the website SEM but nonetheless, the client insisted on it. If after her recommendation Company X persisted on carrying out SEM, there was really no reason not to give the client what they want. She drafted a strategy including keywords such as ‘costume rental service’, ‘best costume rental in Nashville’, and ‘superhero costume rentals’.
Company X got hundreds of clicks on their ads before the end of the first month. The strategy had a click-through rate at $0.52 per click. Search Engine Marketing was working out for clicks. Despite all this, Company X reached out to my friend. They were not seeing return-on-investment as they were expecting. People were not renting out their costumes.
Why? They had a beautiful website with a clear message and visible call-to-action. As my friend later explained to me, they had an 85% bounceback rate on their homepage. Users clicking on links to other pages on the website also seemed to end their journey there. What happened? Company X had a WordPress website with tons of functionality. Scheduling, memberships, forums, comments, ratings, a chatbot, and a CMS that run site analytics without any indications of where to block it. This made the website load slowly, which can dramatically reduce interest before the page even fully loads.
My friend e-mails back, pointing out again to Company X that they should consider running some optimization on their website. The client then notified my friend about how their budget was running low and they wished to terminate the ads. This problem came from not being aware that before SEM, one should always work on their SEO. Learning from my friend’s experience, at SignalBoost we don’t pay for Google Ads until we have optimized a client’s website to the absolute best of our abilities. In this post, we will teach you how to cut the loading times of your websites in half.
Using GTmetrix to Optimize Websites
When it comes to page-speed, there is no better tool to analyze these numbers than GTmetrix.com. We use this software every day as it allows for tracking, and it lets us know when one of the websites we are doing SEO on is loading slower than we would want to. But that is just one of its many features.
Using GTmetrix’s core functionality and memberships are completely free, and you don’t even need an account to analyze any URL you want. Signing up will give you priority on the cue they have for analyzing websites, as well as allow you to track page-speeds as we do. Additionally, you can pay for a PRO account, which has some additional features. As an example, I will run GTmetrix’s analytics on a client, RTM Consulting.
Analyzing with GTmetrix
Once you enter a URL on their page and hit the ‘test your site’ button, the backend will do its thing and output the results to a report-screen. On this page, you will see two scores and some more page details. Underneath that section, there’s a set of tabs. We will be focusing on the first three. These are the only features you will need to use to start optimizing your site.
Understanding Your Page’s Performance Score and Details
GTmetrix uses two tools to give your site ratings which each depend on their own metrics. PageSpeed and YSlow are these two tools; one was developed by Google (PageSpeed) and the other by Yahoo! (YSlow). They occupy the first two tabs of your performance report and each includes a list of recommendations, giving you valuable insight into how to better your website.
GTmetrix Recommendation Tabs for RTM Consulting
Both of these scores depend on how well your site adheres to their guidelines. These usually turn out favorable for your own loading-times. However, sometimes these recommendations are not as effective to follow. For example, in the case of RTM (seen above), YSlow asked us to use a Content Delivery Network. They do for every website YSlow scans. CDNs cache websites in a variety of servers around the world to reduce load-times. They are fairly effective and by all means a great recommendation.
In order to use a CDN, RTM needed some reconfiguring on behalf of their domain-name provider, but their liaison took noticeably long to reply. Adding onto that the configuration for the CDN, RTM and we agreed to not pursue the CDN configuration for the moment. Instead, we chose to focus on more concrete suggestions such as lossless image compression, minifying scripts, and caching resources.
Using the Waterfall
One can always be more thorough though. After all, the performance score recommendations will only get you so far. To make the most out of GTmetrix, turn to the Waterfall tab to see a measured view of your website’s resources. By ‘resources’ I mean all of the elements on your website. These are the website itself, your fonts, images, and all scripts being loaded. Through this tab, you will be able to pinpoint how much time each of these resources is taking to load, and what domain it is coming from, as well as their size.
GTmetrix’s Waterfall Chart
Looking at RTM’s waterfall chart today, I realize today there is an image that is taking too much time to load. As I click on the image and see what it is I realize it has been posted as the featured image for one of their latest blog-posts. The image was not edited before adding it to the post. This is an issue that I will have to fix by both losslessly compressing and then scaling down the photo to a more appropriate width. In this way, scanning through your resources, one can quickly identify outstanding factors for a slow page.
For more information on how to read the Waterfall graph, click here.
After all our efforts, we cut the loading speed of a 5-second website to 2.5 seconds. RTM was very happy that we made their website load twice as fast. There is a ‘History’ tab where you can see how your site’s metrics evolve over time. This is a great resource for anyone doing web optimization as it updates every time a site is analyzed, so you will be able to easily track your progress.
RTM GTmetrix Performance Report
RTM Page Timings History
Remember about the loading-speed tracking we mentioned earlier? These represent valuable data-points that you should be contrasting against any other metrics you use to measure your website’s success. The faster your websites are, the better the customer experience and user engagement is going to be.
There are always bottlenecks and other issues that these analytics tools will miss. For example, in the case of WordPress websites, if not enough memory is being allocated to PHP the site will run much slower. Hiring an expert will almost certainly yield faster results, but at least with this article, you can start cutting down website loading times!
Was this guide useful? Let us know in the comment section below!